Baby Steps Towards the Justice for Elijah McClain
But is it enough? Say his name
Who remembers Elijah McClain? I do. His story struck a nerve with me. In August 2019, 23 year old Elijah McClain was brutally accosted, arrested, and murdered by Aurora, Colorado police officers.
It’s now March 2021 and his case still isn’t over. His name isn’t being repeated. Is anyone saying his name anymore? I am. There are still a few who have doggedly fought for his exoneration and investigation into his case.
Why does Elijah’s case hit me hard? It’s because Elijah was known to be “different.” That’s what he tells Aurora police officers over and over again. “I’m just different.” This was a young man who smiled and greeted everyone with a smile. This is a young man who played his violin for lonely shelter kittens.
On the day of his death, Elijah was wearing a winter mask over his face and dancing to music. Someone called the police saying that someone was acting “sketchy” but not dangerous or armed. Aurora police officers, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema responded to the call with violence that ultimately left Elijah beaten and brain dead.
Elijah was known to be quirky or in his own words, “different.” I, too, have a different son who has difficulty picking up social cues. I worry how others perceive him and if they’ll “get him.” But I also don’t want him to stop being himself or to try to fit into the mold others have created for him. Yet, I fear that his “difference” will make others treat him unkindly and with force. I wonder if he were presented with the situation as Elijah if he would have the wherewithall to say, “I’m autistic. I’m different. Please give me a minute to process what you are saying.”
I worry that those in authority will disregard his words and only see a young man who is flapping, flinching, moving differently.
I worry that people who are not trained in identifying and working with autistic people will understand how to deescalate the situation especially when that autistic person looks neurotypical, a.k.a. “normal.”
The officers who confronted Elijah never gave him a chance. He tried to explain his actions, but they were ignored. All they saw was a young black man who was waving his arms to music that they couldn’t hear. They choked him and sedated him with ketamine as he begged for his life. Elijah would have been 25 years old last month.
Two months later three officers went back to the scene and heinously mocked the Elijah’s death. To a mother with a son who is also different, it angers me that they would not take the incident seriously; that they flaunted their ignorance while a mother across the country continues to grieve the loss of her son more than a year later.
In a recent small step towards justice, Elijah Mcclain was exonerated from any wrong doing that would have caused him to be treated with force.
Officers Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich, and Jason Rosenblatt were reported to the Aurora department’s internal affairs unit when their photographs surfaced of them mocking Elijah’s death. They were fired and in February 2021 Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson upheld her decision that the officers employment were terminated.
It’s not enough, but it’s a small step towards justice for Elijah. His story is not over. Say his name. Elijah McClain.